By Elsa Barron
The threat of a likely Russian invasion of Ukraine hung over the recent 2022 Munich Security Conference, held from February 18-20. Events and discussions regarding NATO’s role in responding to this immediate geopolitical, and potential humanitarian, crisis were many. Devastatingly, these conversations that were at the time hypothetical are now coming to pass.
Other cross-cutting crises, and NATO’s role in addressing them, were also discussed in depth – including the security risks of a changing climate. In that context, the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS) was honored to partner with NATO to host an event titled: “An Adaptation Battle Plan: Implementing Climate Security Action.” Speakers included The Honorable Anita Anand, Canadian Minister of National Defense, The Honorable Baiba Braže, NATO Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy, General Tom Middendorp, Chief of Defense of the Netherlands (Ret) and Chair of the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS), and The Honorable David van Weel, NATO Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges.
At the event, one message was clear: climate security is a core concern for NATO, cutting across many alliance priorities, and it is here to stay. Climate-linked military challenges drove the conversation, with speakers acknowledging that while militaries are intended to be a force of last resort, they are increasingly called first to respond to climate impacts and natural disasters. Participants further noted that not only must militaries respond to emerging threats, they must also address their own energy use, given the grave long-term security consequences that stem from their continued emission of greenhouse gasses.
Tackling emissions provides militaries with the opportunity to embrace new technologies that increase their self-sufficiency and resilience to shocks. As NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has noted, the current Ukraine crisis “demonstrates the vulnerability of being too dependent on one supplier [Russia] of natural gas.” Militaries have a responsibility to drive both adaptation and mitigation and should benefit strategically and operationally from such shifts over time.
Speakers noted that as the leadership and priorities of NATO member countries change from one administration to the next, the alliance can provide a steadying ground for climate security commitments. For example, NATO regulations on sustainable procurement for military equipment could ensure forward progress across governments and drive private innovation and investment, making it easier for nations to live up to their responsibility to prepare for and prevent climate change.
With an eye to the future, NATO’s engagement with the next generation is also key. Younger generations are deeply concerned about climate change, and they are looking to join and support institutions that demonstrate a commitment to protecting people and the planet. The question is, as one speaker put it, will NATO be an institution that lives up to that standard?
Just twelve years ago, when the Center for Climate and Security was founded, the existence of a climate security nexus was still under discussion. Today, the conversation is no longer about whether the nexus exists, but rather about how to address the serious threats presented by it. The message in the room was clear on a point that is now even more obvious given the escalating crisis in Ukraine: climate security is, and will remain, a key issue on the table. It is a concern closely linked to the current crises NATO is facing.
Event participants agreed that commitments to move the NATO Climate Change and Security Action Plan forward, from text to deed, are now critical. In the near term, we expect NATO leaders will discuss concrete plans for action on climate security – and undoubtedly energy security – at the upcoming ministerial meeting in June. Additionally, as discussed at the event, Canada’s leadership in launching a NATO Center of Excellence on climate security will ensure that the alliance leads in developing new climate security research, strategy, and training. Ultimately, these opportunities allow NATO to lead the charge towards a more secure and sustainable world.
In the midst of a Russian attack on a sovereign European nation, NATO’s imperative becomes even clearer: to respond to escalating crises from all directions. Addressing climate change is both essential for the prevention of potentially catastrophic security risks on an international scale, and to ensure NATO’s continued strength.